A Pastor Teaches us about the Essence of Fasting in Ramadan
At the start of Ramadan, I was alerted to this radical blog: The New MethoFesto. Why was it so radical? In a world that recently seems to love to hate Muslims, here was a Methodist Pastor who willingly embarked on a month-long fast in solidarity with the Muslims. He wrote his reflections almost daily and he touched so many hearts and taught Muslims the essence of fasting in Ramadan.
Here are some of my favourite excerpts from his postings:
“The body tells us when we need to eat and drink. The appetites are natural, healthy, and necessary. Why would one want to deny the obviously normal and healthy desires of the body?
The answer has to do with the realization that there is a deeper reality that lies beneath and within the biological basis of life. Human beings are not simply a bag of skin and bones, a composition of genes and chromosomes, a mass of fluids. We are not only or merely animals.
We are souls. We are spirits. We have the very image of God imprinted in us. In fact, that is what defines us, that is what gives us our identity and marks us as sacred beings.
And so the practice of fasting is a way of reconnecting with our dignity as created beings.
When I fast, I am making the statement – to myself and to the world around me – that I am more than my appetites, more than my desires and urges. I am spirit and I am soul; I am loved and forgiven by a God who cannot be seen, but whose reign of peace and justice is slowly and inevitably coming into being.
In a sense, it is truly a bold, revolutionary kind of statement, because it requires faith in things which cannot be seen.”
“And when my forehead touched the carpet on the ground, I found myself deeply awed. I was struck by my vulnerability. I was kneeling forward, head down, neck bared. There is no more vulnerable position than that.”
“When we come to realize that God is our loving parent, full of compassion and mercy toward us, then we, in profound gratitude, fall down on our faces and let God’s love wash over us.”
“When we find ourselves on the Straight Path, we must find a way to stay there, to keep walking, to keep discovering new mercies of God, to keep on reaching for the glory in front of us.
The life we seek is in the walking.”
“Crunch Time is the moment in which I come face-to-face with my own human limitations, the edges of my mortality. I recognize the strength of my appetites and passions. I can see that I have the tendency to take the easy way. I know that I am truly weak.
This is an important aspect of fasting – the recognition of our weakness. With awareness of limits, comes humility. And with humility comes confession, repentance, and … renewal.
Every evening, after Crunch Time, my fasting takes a more joyful turn. I feel as if I have withstood temptation, with God’s help. I feel I have conquered my private demons, and have emerged a stronger, more victorious person.
I think maybe this is a pattern that is repeated continually throughout our lives as we walk with God. We are called forward on the path by God, who leads us through trials as well as blessings. At some point, we face an apparent dead-end. There doesn’t seem to be any way forward. But we are forced to make a decision – to acknowledge our weakness, put our whole trust on God, and keep going anyway … OR … give up and turn back in shame, because we have lost confidence in ourselves and in God.
This is the Crunch Time.
When we push through and keep going, we find rewards that we couldn’t have anticipated. We find, of course, that God goes with us, through the storm, through the fire, through every trial and temptation that can be thrown against us.”
“All forms of ablution are essentially symbolic – the washing of one’s body is meant to represent the cleansing of one’s heart and soul. Just because you go to prayer with sparkling clean hands doesn’t mean your heart is also pure. It’s meant instead to be a reminder before prayer to lay aside those things which might be a hindrance to the contemplation of God. As Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously put it, “purity of heart is to will one thing,” meaning that purity is really about focus, single-mindedness.
The religious pursuit of purity is not so much about being rid of dirt and sin, as it is about the embrace of God alone. In order to receive God’s merciful embrace, we must open our fists, dropping those things which we were clinging to, and reaching out for the eternal One. Purity is the crystalline, razor-sharp intention to let God, and God alone, fill one’s heart, mind, and soul.”
“It makes me a little sad that I will be following this routine for only a couple more days.
But I hope that my life is forever changed by the experience, and I hope there are long-term effects of my fast. The whole point of Ramadan is to be changed – for good. It’s not simply a set of exercises that one must endure for thirty days so that you can earn a reward in heaven, or earn a check mark next to your name on the “Good” list.
And living “right” during Ramadan does not give one license to live “wrong” the other eleven months of the year. As one Muslim friend told me, Ramadan is like a spiritual “boot camp,” training for the rest of the year. It’s intended to make it easier to live in submission to God’s will all the year round.”
“When we view the practice of fasting as something which must be endured in order to earn a reward, then we have entirely missed the point. Fasting is a discipline which forms and shapes us, makes us into people who are more responsive to God.”
May Allah bless Pastor Wes for building bridges, being love and for teaching us about the essence & intention of fasting.
Ameera is the Editor of Muzlimbuzz.sg, a chronic reader and a news junkie.